From the essay: "Like today's seminary graduates, they proved adept at lifting snippets out of context, reducing the tradition to an absurd caricature, and then "boldly" demolishing the absurdity they themselves have constructed. This is old hat among religious professionals, but not many of Newsweek's urban sophisticates are likely to be aware of it."
Funny that the essayist would mention this, because this is precisely what the bishop of the DCNY does repeatedly in his convention addresses and other public statements, as I have documented in previous posts. ed.
By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu
Newsweek magazine ran a fabulously successful mini-series on the gay marriage debate in its Dec. 15 issue, featuring "Our Mutual Joy," the cover story which, according to staffer Kurt Soller, "lays out the religious case for gay marriage."
Two companion articles appeared in the same issue, the first a weekly editor's opinion column by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, and a modern "human interest" story detailing the difficulties faced by a divorced lesbian couple embroiled in bitter litigation over the custody of their daughter.
Meacham, an Episcopalian and a graduate of and former Regent at Sewanee, waxed prophetic in his column regarding the inevitable reaction to the series, especially to religion editor Lisa Miller's cover story.
"The reaction to this cover is not difficult to predict. Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their 'agenda,' a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and e-mails come."
Meacham's prophecy was carefully crafted to be self-fulfilling, of course. The conservative straw man was set up as the target. The editors of Newsweek were in their ideological bunkers well in advance of the anticipated reaction.
The resulting brouhaha has been great news for Newsweek, which only a week before had announced (quietly) its plan of cutting circulation by a full million--slightly less than half--from its current rate base, not to mention cutting staff as well. According to FOLIO.com, the cuts are "part of a broader plan to shift the publication away from a newsmagazine to an opinion-centric, 'thought-leader' title more akin to the Economist--and a more concentrated, intellectual and affluent readership advertisers covet."
Translation: Newsweek has given up pretending to be about reporting news. It is now in the process of repackaging itself for an emerging class of wannabe urban sophisticates seeking to be up on the latest fashions in intellectual posturing.
In its annual report on "The State of the News Media in 2008," Journalism.org reported that readers of weekly news magazines earned an average of $18,000 more than the average income of all magazine readers. In other words, in its bold and "prophetic" coverage on Dec. 15 Newsweek was finding its niche among well groomed consumers of political correctness--the affluent and "opinion-centric"--with the promise of new advertising revenues added unto them as well.
I'd be the first to say there's nothing wrong with being successful and being rewarded for meeting a need in the market place. In the present case, however, marketing a pretense of elitism is crucial to putting the actual writing in context.
While Newsweek's December feature was pitched to a materially and intellectually privileged class of readers, it was not pitched to religious professionals nor even to the religiously informed. As much as Miller and Meacham borrowed quotes from contemporary scholars, it was clear that they were counting on the vast majority of readers to be thoroughly ignorant of the Bible and Christian tradition, as well as the status of the particular criticisms they cited.
Like today's seminary graduates, they proved adept at lifting snippets out of context, reducing the tradition to an absurd caricature, and then "boldly" demolishing the absurdity they themselves have constructed. This is old hat among religious professionals, but not many of Newsweek's urban sophisticates are likely to be aware of it.
Lisa Miller begins her cover story with the tacit announcement that hating traditional Christians is a necessary component of political correctness. Note how her article begins: "Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does." We can already tell what is coming: a lethal dose of tolerance and inclusion.
Miller is obviously familiar with the Bible, enough so that in her opening paragraph she can craft a parody of what the Bible says as a whole regarding marriage. She presents the Bible as a garbled hash of incoherent, conflicting assertions, confident that most of her readers, for all their well heeled intellectualism, will not know the context.
She can even assert an outright lie in her claim that neither the Bible nor Jesus "explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman" without fear that her opinion-centric readers will call her on it. She can shame them into accepting her own "mature view of scriptural authority," even though she never states what that "mature view" is.
The subtext is this: unless you hold this point of view, you are straying off the plantation of political correctness. You must always be afraid to do that. You must cultivate the appropriate fear and instinctive hatred to keep you safely oriented.
Presuming to debunk the biblical prohibitions of homosexual behavior Miller trots out the fringe opinions of a few contemporary biblical critics as if their opinions were established and uncontested. She knows her readers will not be familiar with the shaky ground on which these criticisms are held even by scholars who sympathize with their ideological assumptions.
Her argument is really a subterfuge for a pattern of manipulative rhetoric designed to mislead readers about the facts and, worse, to signal to them that it is acceptable--no, necessary--in modern sophisticated circles to hate and fear traditional religious believers. Hatred for Christian traditionalism is how Meacham frames his editorial foray with his opening reference to the "conservative forces of reaction to the ecclesiastical and cultural acceptance of homosexuality" gathered at Wheaton College in November to announce the new North American Anglican Province.
With an air of feigned gravitas Meacham points to Episcopal (now Anglican) conservatives as typifying "the worst kind of fundamentalism": namely, "to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible." In other words, the very idea of biblical authority, which has been the heart of every Christian tradition since the apostles, is fundamentalistic and beneath the pale for today's "thinking" Christians.
"To argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt--it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition." Since that tradition is the source of slavery and every other injustice known to history, one wonders what Meacham sees in the Judeo-Christian tradition that makes it great. (And by the way, is "unserious" a word?)
Meacham, like Miller, banks his intellectual argument entirely on a lie which he is certain his readers are not sophisticated enough to catch--or else will be too fearful even to consider. "The Judeo-Christian religious case for supporting gay marriage begins with the recognition that sexual orientation is not a choice--a matter of behavior--but is as intrinsic to a person's makeup as skin color."
I went to a liberal seminary, one rabidly sympathetic to gay liberation, and even there I don't recall hearing that the modern invention of "sexual orientation" derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition. I did hear that gay liberation was a new revelation from the old God of that tradition, and that today Christians were helping God "evolve" so that He/She could catch up with our advanced vision of justice. "We have improved thy work," to quote the Grand Inquisitor.
Meacham's whole premise is based on a clinical falsehood: the claim that sexual orientation is now universally acknowledged as innate. The truth is that, whatever the range of opinion regarding the origin of homosexuality and whatever a given society determines to be the appropriate legal status of homosexuals, it has not been medically or clinically established that sexual orientation is "intrinsic to a person's makeup" the way skin color is.
It may be intrinsic to a person's identity, but that is another matter. It may be involuntary, but that only means that there are a myriad of factors that contribute to its cause, so many that a purported single cause can probably never be scientifically verified. Alcoholism is also innate and involuntary, the one difference being that a case has been made for a genetically "intrinsic" connection.
Homosexuality must be presented as something that is scientifically certified, so that it can be said to be "natural". It must also be presented as something which can only be opposed by people who are irrational, extreme, and dangerous--people who must be silenced by law in a growing state of emergency.
If ever anything were "more than intellectually bankrupt" it is Newsweek's all out assault on the intelligence of their readers and their readiness to groom them as mindless consumers of their new product. Throughout their arguments the Newsweek writers rely on their readers to be afraid--to be very afraid of thinking the wrong things, lest they lose the cover of political correctness. They do not lead their "opinion-centric" readers in forming opinions but reactions.
One of these reactions is not to challenge shallow and fallacious arguments when they are phrased in a charged coded language. Hence Meacham and Miller's reliance on the race card in place of rational argument. The bottom line is that disbelief in homosexual orientation is tantamount to racism. The message to the reader: be very afraid of incorrect thinking on this issue, or you will forfeit your elitist pretensions.
A legitimate claim to be a member of the elite is what Newsweek's readers (what's left of them) are counting on. It's the reason they still read Newsweek. It's what Newsweek's editors are banking their advertisers might be willing to invest in.
---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.